Youth Sports Training Technique: Part 3


Youth Sports Training



The Importance of Speed Training for Young Athletes…


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Open versus Closed Habits?


‘Part 3’:


The core of technique development or learning is in the action of achieving perfect sensory-motor habits. A sensory-motor habit is simply a “learned activity of sensory and motor processes intentionally practiced to the point of nationalization”. From a physiological perspective, this entails creating a permanent conditional reflex connection that enables the exact same motor reactions to respond to the same stimuli. The development of a sensory-motor habit occurs through many stages:


1. Generalized excitation of motor centers in the cortex.



When young athletes are first learning a new skill, they will often become overly tensed as they concentrate hard on performing that skill correctly. This often leads to needless additional movements and a lack of ability to ‘zero-in’ on movement of skill execution perfection.


2. Concentrated excitation in the appropriate motor centers.



This is when young athletes become much more comfortable with a new skill. The movements become much more economical, flowing and precise. Young athletes’ attention is drawn more towards the rhythm and speed at which skills are performed as well as specific details of technique.


3. Nationalization of the entire action



There is no need for any sort of conscious effort with respect to movement control. The skill is performed in the right situation, in the correct way and all via nationalization.


Sensory-motor habits are either “open” or “closed” –


  • Open Habits are variable or adaptable to unexpected situation changes.
  • Closed Habits are suitable for when the movement is being executed in a static situation or environment.


In sports involving closed sensory-motor habits, athletes practice precise and preprogrammed movements. The athletes learn via feedback from their bodies and are eventually able to detect very small divergences from proper execution, divergences that would lead to a poor result or performance. Elite figure skaters or track and field throwing athletes, for example, will know immediately upon executing a jump or throw whether or not it was their best effort based on the feedback their bodies give them in relation to an automatic understanding of what perfect execution feels like.


In sports relating to open sensory-motor habits, once the essence of the technique has been taught and perfected, the young athlete should be placed in constantly changing situations that will demand that the athlete learn to make quick reactive

choices and maintain the ability to apply the learned technique in varying conditions.


True aptness or perfection of open sensory-motor habits involves making them more plastic. This is a neurological reference that means making these skills more adaptable to a variety of situations.


There are three basic phases in learning a technique:


1. Basic Learning – The learning of a new technique should be done at a slow pace. Especially with younger athletes, coaches must refrain from ‘drilling’ a new technique at ‘normal time’ rates. That is, simply showing or describing an exercise or technique once or twice and then asking young athletes to replicate what they have just learned at a quickened or ‘game speed’ tempo is counterproductive to learning that technique on an optimal level.


Remember, when dealing with young athletes QUALITY OF TECHNIQUE is inherently more important than performing a certain number of drills. I try to equate developing a young athlete to progressing through the academic levels of a school system; a teacher simply would not give an example of advanced calculus to a third grade class and expect them to understand it nor be able to solve calculus-based problems. Basic addition, multiplication, subtraction and division is taught at a young age and progressed upon with advanced conceptual understandings of mathematics as the student progresses in both age and intelligence. The same should be promoted with regards to developing a young athlete. In this example of ‘Basic Learning’, Coaches and Trainers should teach new techniques in a controlled manner, making sure that the athlete understands the concepts of body mechanics and angle of force, thereby increasing their awareness of movement economy.


2. Controlled Application – Once the athlete understands the skill and can perform it at an increased pace during isolated practices (i.e., NOT game situations), the Coach should now incorporate ‘opponents’ into the next phase of skill/technique learning. This would entail controlled practices or scrimmages in which the techniques are practiced against another team or competitor. This phase of learning should also be based on quality of repetition, again refraining from ‘drilling’. By drilling, I am referring to the Coach or Trainer who uses the common phrase ‘Do it again!’ at regular intervals during a practice. Remember, learning a technique is a process of which this is phase two. The Coach or Trainer should continue to provide feedback and instruction that supports the athlete in learning and refining this technique to an optimal level.


3. General Application – The Coach has very little influence over this phase during the actual event/game itself. The athlete will react and succeed based largely on how well they were taught. Quality, positive and constructive feedback should still be offered to the athlete either after the game or at the next practice.



– Brian

Youth Sports Training





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